Chapter XXII — Two Famous Poisoning Trials
Two Famous Poisoning Trials
Thomas Hall is much the most remarkable man in the criminal annals of the Colony; it may even be said, without exaggeration, that he takes rank among the very greatest criminals of the nineteenth century.
In October 1886 he was convicted of attempting to murder his wife by poisoning her with antimony, and was sentenced to penal servitude for the term of his natural life. In January 1887 he was found guilty of murdering his father-in-law by means of the same poison and was sentenced to be hanged. The verdict, however, was set aside by the Court of Appeal on the ground of the wrongful admission of evidence, and so he was spared the gallows.
The murder of his father-in-law was earlier in time by some months than the attempt upon the life of his wife; but it will be found more convenient to narrate the events in the order in which they were discovered rather than in the order in which they happened.
Both crimes were committed at Timaru, a seaport of South Canterbury, about half-way between Christchurch and Dunedin. But it was deemed advisable in each case to change the venue. The charge of attempting to poison his wife was tried page 316in Christchurch, that of murdering his father-in-law in Dunedin three months later.
The presiding Judge at the trial in Christchurch was Mr. Justice Johnson. The Attorney-General, Sir Robert Stout (afterwards Chief Justice of New Zealand and a member of the Privy Council), conducted the prosecution. With him were the Crown Prosecutors of Timaru and Christchurch, Mr. J. W. White and Mr. J. C. Martin. Mr. T. I. Joynt defended Hall, while Mr. James Hay, of Timaru, acted as Counsel for Margaret Graham Houston, who was indicted and tried at the same time as an accomplice in the crime.
I was present as a spectator during a great part of the proceedings. The case naturally aroused intense interest among the public; but for me it had a special interest, because a short time before I had spent some months in Timaru, had lodged quite close to Woodlands, the scene of the crime, and was personally acquainted with several of the principal witnesses. Moreover, my fellow-collegian, James Hay, was engaged in the case. But a few years ago he too had been a callow undergraduate, yet here he was Counsel in a cause célèbre, conducting the defence of Miss Houston with consummate skill and chivalrous enthusiasm to its ultimate termination in a verdict of acquittal and the complete vindication of her good name. At that time I hoped myself in a few years to join the legal profession and emulate his great example; in the meantime I must see for myself "how it was done." The interest I felt in every detail of that trial as it proceeded was increased in after-years when I was at length admitted to the Bar and myself page 317engaged in criminal defence work. I had become the intimate friend of James Hay; I now entered into partnership with Mr. J. W. White. From them, and from my friend Mr.T. I. Joynt, I learned much more about the career of Thomas Hall and the incidents of the two trials than could be gathered even from the admirable verbatim reports which were published at the time.
At the beginning of the year 1885 Thomas Hall, to all outward seeming, was in a position which many men might envy. Well-connected and well-educated, he was also reputed well-to-do. A few years before he had resigned from the position of manager of one of the banks at Timaru, and had set up in business as a land, stock, and station agent. In his earlier life he had managed one of his father's sheep-stations and thus acquired valuable experience in farming and stock-dealing. His career in a bank had given him a useful training in accountancy. With these qualifications, his social connections and his family backing, he appears in a very short time to have established a flourishing business. In private life he was in the best social standing; popular at "routs" and balls, in great demand at concerts and parties; he danced and sang well, and was accounted an entertaining fellow; he was a member of the County Club, and rode to hounds on a good mount.
Early in the year he became engaged to marry Miss Kate Emily Cain, step-daughter of Henry Cain, a retired sea-captain. Miss Cain had some present means and considerable expectations in the future. Under one settlement she was life-tenant and in receipt of an income of £250 a year; she page 318was entitled in reversion to other property under the provisions of several wills and settlements. Marriage with her might, therefore, in a worldly-sense, be accounted a good match. She appears, moreover, to have been an attractive girl and was obviously devoted to her betrothed.
The marriage took place on May 26th, 1885, and husband and wife went to reside at Kingsland, a village some four or five miles out of Timara. On the death of her step-father in the following January, however, they came to live at Woodlands, a large house with a considerable area of land, garden, orchard, and fields, attached to it. This place was situated on the outskirts of Timaru and was a valuable property. It belonged to Mrs. Hall and her sister in equal shares.
On June 19th, 1886, Mrs. Hall gave birth to a son. At this time the household at Woodlands comprised Hall and his wife, a lady-help or companion, Miss Houston, a maternity nurse, a cook, a housemaid, and a gardener. Dr. Patrick McIntyre was the family physician.
Mrs. Hall had enjoyed normal health during the time she was with child, and her accouchement presented no unusual difficulties. On the fourth day after the birth of her baby, however, she became unexpectedly ill and developed symptoms that completely baffled the doctor. Intermittent retching and vomiting continued from June 23rd to August 15th. She suffered from intense itching all over the body, distressing thirst, involuntary movements of the shoulders and spasms in the calves of the legs. Lips and nostrils were constantly sore; the tongue was furred over in patches, and a faint blue line page 319showed itself on the gums. She complained frequently of a feeling of tightness round the throat as if someone were strangling her, and there was extreme tenderness over the abdominal region. As week followed week she suffered from ever-increasing prostration.
Throughout these two months Hall appeared to be all that a kind and affectionate husband should be. He spent much time in the sick-room, spoke to his wife always in terms of tender solicitude and deep concern; would sit for hours by her bedside caressing her hand, trying to soothe her pain, and speaking words of hope and comfort. More than once he suggested that other doctors should be called in. There were, in fact, three consultations, with three doctors present at each; but all were baffled and at fault. Hall even suggested analysis of vomit and excretions, and himself took into town vessels given him by the nurse, and left them with the doctors for examination. They applied the usual tests for Bright's disease and diabetes, but went no further. The symptoms were not consistent with any known natural disease; they were, on the contrary, the actual symptoms that follow upon the administration of either of two poisons— the mineral poison antimony or the vegetable poison colchicum. But the idea of attributing Mrs. Hall's symptoms to poison did not suggest itself to any of the medical men who saw her. The only people in the house who had opportunities of interfering with the patient's food were the maternity nurse, Mrs. Ellison, the lady-help, Miss Houston, and Hall. To suspect either of the two women was absurd; to associate the idea of poisoning with the page 320devoted and tender-hearted husband was preposterous.
And yet on August 12th, when the last of the three consultations was held, the thought of poison did suddenly force itself upon two of the doctors present. They tested excretions on the 13th; they said not one word to each other of the appalling suspicion that had flashed into their minds, but decided, without discussion, upon their course of action. They sent specimens to Professor Black, of Dunedin, Professor of Chemistry in the University of Otago, and would await his report. In the meantime they ordered that no food of any kind should be given to the patient by the mouth; she must be nourished by injections of beef-tea and brandy. It would be quite impossible, they thought, to administer a mineral poison in the injections. But as the patient suffered so much from thirst, they permitted her to sip ice-water from a wine-glass to moisten her tongue and lips. This also they thought safe; the boldest would not dare to put poison in ice-water, as it would be detected immediately by the taste.
And so, thought they, the patient would be in no danger if they waited till Professor Black's report should arrive. If the expert's analysis confirmed their tests, they would know how to act.
But they had not counted on the devilish daring of the poisoner.
The new regimen was begun on Saturday, August 14th, and there was a slight improvement on that day. Hall told his friends that his wife was much better. He was at the meet of the South Canterbury Harriers in the afternoon. He evidently page 321came home to dine, for he gave the nurse some brandy in a bottle early that evening for use in the injections; but he was back at the club in the evening and played billiards till a late hour. He was in excellent spirits; his friends had not seen him in such good form for weeks. "No wonder, poor devil !" said one—"his wife is better at last!"
But that night Mrs. Hall was again desperately ill. Injections—including some of the brandy— had been administered in the evening, and she vomited till four o'clock next morning. After breakfast Hall gave her some ice-water from a cup, and she at once began retching and vomiting again. By one o'clock, when Dr. McIntyre came, he found her dreadfully prostrated—almost in a state of collapse. One more such day would surely be her last.
But there were no more such days. From then on her health improved with marvellous rapidity; in a few days retching and vomiting had entirely ceased, and in a very short time she had completely recovered. But the cause of her sudden restoration to health must have been a terrible shock to this unfortunate lady, for it was simply this: that on the evening of Sunday, August 15th, her husband was carried off to prison, and the long course of slow poisoning abruptly ceased.
It becomes necessary at this point to go back to an earlier period in the narrative. In order to understand fully the character and motives of this ruthless man, we must trace the development of his infamous purpose from its inception to its culmination.page 322
In the earlier part of the previous year Hall's financial position had become hopelessly involved. How it came about that he was in such straits is not known, nor does it matter. To meet pressing demands for money by his banker and other creditors, he had defrauded his clients and embezzled funds entrusted to him for investment in the course of his business. He was faced with a deficit of five or six thousand pounds. To conceal these frauds he had resorted to forgery. Subsequent investigation brought to light seven or eight forgeries of promissory notes discounted at his bankers', and of mortgage securities which purported to support the notes. The first of the forgeries proved against him was done two months before the marriage; this was a promissory note for £800, and the total amount involved in the series ran into several thousands. The position was such that unless he could arrange further credits or raise a very large sum in cash, he was face to face with exposure and imprisonment.
Many years after the trial his Counsel, Mr. T. I. Joynt, told me of an incident in his association with Hall which, in the light of the facts proved at the trial, is of appalling significance. Early in 1885 Hall sent up to Mr. Joynt from Timaru a "Case for opinion of Counsel." The case was well drawn, but was obviously the work of a layman. Hall had good reason, no doubt, for not consulting a solicitor in his own town, who might have had embarrassing personal knowledge of the matters upon which advice was sought.
The "case" set out the relevant clauses of several deeds of settlement; the names of parties page 323were not given, and Hall referred to the circumstances as "hypothetical." Counsel was asked to advise what would be the position in certain eventualities of a lady, the life tenant, and of any husband she might marry. What were her rights in the event of the death of certain persons having prior interests, and what benefits, if any, would accrue to her husband on her death before or after the birth of a child or children? Mr. Joynt delivered his opinion and gave no further thought to the matterv.
But when, nearly two years later, he was retained as Counsel in Hall's defence, he at once realised that if the accused were guilty of the crime charged against him, then he had clearly contemplated the murder of his wife before he married her—perhaps even before he committed himself to a formal engagement. He realised also why the administration of antimony was not begun by Hal! till some days after the birth of the child, for if Mrs, Hall died without leaving a child, the income of £250 a year which she received under one of the settlements would pass to strangers, If, however, a child were born, the income would pass to that child and be payable to the father as guardian during the period of minority. It is this fact, that Hall deliberately selected this young girl to become his wife, to bear him a child, and then to be murdered, that justifies the description of him as one of the greatest criminals of a century prolific in great criminals.
Two months after his marriage—on July 29th, 1885—Hall procured his wife to make a will leaving all her property to him, This will remained in his custody till his arrest. But he must have realised page 324that all the property his wife was able to leave him would fall far short of the amount necessary to cover up his defalcations. A few months after his marriage, therefore, he insured her life under two policies of £3,000 each. The premiums amounted to £120 a year, and fell to be renewed on August 28th, 1886. It was proved at the trial that Hall would benefit by his wife's death to the extent of about £9,000.
We have no means of knowing at what period Hall decided upon antimony as the poison for his purpose; but he had been a student of the properties and effects of that substance for several years. On May 19th—a week before his wedding-day—he borrowed from a bookseller in Timaru a copy of Headland's "Action of Medicines." He said he wanted some information about antimony, as he was suffering from sciatica. A few weeks later he purchased from the same bookseller a copy of "Taylor on Poisons." Contrary to his usual practice, he paid cash for the book, remarking as he did so, "You had better not book this." He was, however, three shillings short of the price, but was careful to send this amount to the shop by an office-boy the same day. It would seem that he was particularly anxious that the bookseller's ledger should contain no entry of his purchase of "Taylor." There was some evidence of falsification in regard to this incident. The bookseller swore that Hall, when he had bought the book, placed it on the counter and wrote some words in pencil in the front and also some at the back. He professed to be quite certain that the book produced in Court, which had been found in Hall's bedroom after his page 325arrest, was the very copy of "Taylor" sold by him at Timaru in 1885. Yet in front was pencilled in Hall's writing, "T. Hall, 1882" and at the back, "T. Hall, Dunedin, 1882." At the trial in Christchurch the bookseller's story stood uncontradicted and may well have made a strong impression on the jury. But at the subsequent trial in Dunedin two dependable witnesses swore they had seen a "Taylor" in Hall's possession as early as 1883 and 1884. The bookseller may therefore have been mistaken as to the identity of the book produced and the book sold by him, or he may have been lying. His demeanour in the witness-box at both trials was equally consistent with his being a liar or a buffoon. Possibly he was both; but fortunately it is not at all likely that any miscarriage of justice resulted from his testimony.
It was proved that on different dates during the months of June, July, and August 1886—the period when his wife exhibited symptoms of poisoning— Hall had made purchases of antimony and colchicum from three different chemists in the town. The antimony was usually in the form of tartar emetic—eight drachms of this were bought in the course of the three months; but there were also purchases of a preparation called "antimonial wine." To one chemist he explained that he required the antimony to make cigarettes for asthma; he had a recipe, so he said, for making these to contain antimony and stramonium seeds. In explanation of his purchase of colchicum he said he wanted it as an appetiser.
Having established the motive for the crime and the possession of means to accomplish it, the page 326prosecution proceeded to prove the administration of the poison.
The patient's meals were usually brought into the bedroom from the dining-room. Both Hall and Miss Houston, who took their own meals there, would have ample opportunity to poison the food. Hall usually took the breakfast-tray into his wife's bedroom, and remained with her while she ate it. But Miss Houston also prepared and took in to her many of her meals.
The vomiting continued, it will be remembered, from June 23rd to August 15th, with occasional intermissions of two or three days at most. But as neither nurse nor doctors suspected foul play, there was no evidence available to connect any particular fit of vomiting with any particular food. The only time when a clear casual connection could be established between a definite food or drink and a particular attack of vomiting was within the last twenty-four hours before the arrest; but that was enough.
The doctors thought their patient would be safe if she were limited to injections and ice-water. But Hall put colchicum into the brandy for the injections, and tartar emetic in solution into the ice-water.
On the evening of Saturday, the 14th, Hall gave the nurse a bottle of brandy, one-third full, and told her to use it for the injections ordered by the doctors. This was found to contain large quantities of colchicine—the active principle of colchicum.
On the Sunday morning the nurse prepared fresh ice-water for her patient. She saw to it that the jug was absolutely clean. She tied over it a piece of new muslin, and into this she put the ice— page 327carefully washed. After breakfast, Hall was alone with his wife for the best part of half an hour. When he had gone and the nurse returned to the room, her patient complained that the ice-water her husband had given her to drink from a cup was "nasty" and tasted bitter. "Goodness knows what was in it," said Mrs. Hall. The nurse sipped a teaspoonful of the water in the cup; she too found it bitter, and it made her vomit. She contrived, without being observed, however, to pour some of the water out of the cup into a bottle she had ready to receive it. It was ultimately ascertained that while the water in the ice-jug contained nothing foreign or deleterious, that drawn from the cup contained salts of antimony or "tartar emetic." In pouring the tartar emetic in solution out of a phial into the cup with his wife in the room, Hall had not been able to check the amount or measure the dose; the water in the cup was, in fact, found to contain eight grains of tartar emetic to the fluid ounce. The medical witnesses were of opinion that this blunder in giving an overdose was the only thing that saved the patient's life, for it made her vomit so violently during the day that she ejected the poison from her system.
When Dr. McIntyre saw the condition of his patient on the Sunday afternoon, and when he ascertained that poison had been administered in the ice-water, he realised that he must act at once. He dared not risk waiting for Professor Black's report, but must act on his own initiative. He at once placed himself in communication with the police, and at six o'clock that evening took the grave responsibility of himself swearing an informa- page 328tion against Thomas Hall and Margaret Graham Houston charging them with attempting to murder Kate Emily Hall by "a certain deadly poison called antimony."
In joining Miss Houston in the charge he committed a grave mistake which caused that unfortunate lady great and irremediable suffering; but in the circumstances in which he was placed it is impossible to blame him, although it appeared in the course of the subsequent trial that the suspicions which pointed to her complicity in the crime were entirely groundless.
Hall's crime had been planned with diabolical subtlety; and for months together he had played the part of the loving and devoted husband with such consummate hypocrisy as to divert all suspicion from himself. But in the end he blundered—as novices in crime invariably do. The one thing he had never taken into account or prepared himself to meet was the possibility of sudden arrest.
At half-past eight on Sunday evening a police inspector, accompanied by a detective officer and two constables, presented himself at Woodlands. Miss Houston opened the door and admitted them into the dining-room where Hall was. They were not left long in doubt as to the motive of the visit:
"I arrest you both on a charge of attempting to poison Mrs. Hall by administering antimony."
Hall stood speechless. Miss Houston was the first to break the silence.
"Oh—antimony; isn't that what you got for your photography?"
"Yes," said Hall, grasping at any possible explanation; and then, moved, one may hope, by page 329a chivalrous impulse—for he had, after all, been a gentleman—he added: "You have nothing to do with this." Then, after a pause, he pulled himself together and said:
"I've used antimony a long time; I've got it to make up into cigarettes with other things for my asthma. You know I suffer from asthma. I have bought tartar emetic at both Gunn's and Eichbaum's" (naming two of the chemists), "but whatever I have done in this matter I have done by myself. There is nobody else concerned."
As he spoke he was backing towards the fireplace and his hands crept towards his pockets. He had suddenly remembered that he carried the poison on his person in a form in which it could not possibly be used for making cigarettes. The Inspector sternly commanded him to take his hands out, and was proceeding to search him when he appeared as though about to collapse and asked to be given some brandy. The detective left the room to fetch the brandy: the moment Hall found himself alone with the Inspector his strength suddenly revived, and he plunged both hands into his pockets. The Inspector closed with him; Miss Houston, acting on a very natural impulse, threw herself between them. In the struggle Hall managed to remove the cork from a phial in his pocket, and as it fell on the floor he tried to kick it into the fireplace. The phial was found empty, but the pocket was wet— as it proved, with tartar emetic in solution. In the other pocket was an envelope which Hall had managed in the struggle to tear open; this contained tartar emetic in the form of powder.
The suddenness and surprise of the arrest had page 330completely unnerved him; he had not even recovered his senses by the time he reached the police-cells, for there he made the most damning admission of all. In the hearing of a police-sergeant he said to Miss Houston, "You are quite free and will be able to get clear. I cannot possibly hope to get off."
Even in that desperate moment his words would seem to have been actuated by a generous impulse to comfort the innocent girl arrested for complicity in his crime. Let this be accounted to the credit of a man of whom so little that is good can ever be spoken.
The case against Miss Houston proved to be of the flimsiest description. She had, of course, had ample opportunity to administer poison to Mrs. Hall, for she had herself prepared and taken in to her many of her meals. But beyond this there was nothing, except the malicious statements of two servant-girls who deposed to "familiarities" between her and the male accused. Under cross-examination both these women betrayed the strongest personal animus against her—the animus of the servant-girl against the "lady-help." The Judge, as well as the jury, clearly regarded the evidence of both these women as utterly unworthy of belief.
The trial lasted eight days, but the jury took less than that number of minutes to arrive at their verdict. They found Hall "Guilty" and Miss Houston "Not Guilty," and they added to their verdict their unanimous opinion that "Margaret Graham Houston leaves this Court without a stain or blemish on her character." page 331When Dr. McIntyre realised that the mysterious symptoms which Mrs. Hall had exhibited were due to antimony administered by her husband, it set him thinking. Those were the very symptoms, as he now remembered, from which another of his patients had suffered but a few months before— Mrs. Hall's step-father, Captain Cain. He, too, for several weeks vomited. The doctor now recalled how he had complained that his grog made him sick—he, an old sea-dog, who had taken whisky every day of his life for fifty years, and liked it. When they changed his liquor and gave him port and then champagne, he still vomited. Even the cough-mixture that had been prescribed for him made him, quite unaccountably, sick. Hall, he knew, had been a daily visitor to the patient's bedside. It is true the Captain was an old man and suffered from dropsy and kidney disease; he had himself given his certificate at the time alleging this to be the cause of death. But was it? And if it was—had death from this cause been accelerated by another? When he reviewed all the circumstances, as he knew them, the doctor felt that here was a matter that called aloud for investigation. So he set the authorities to work.
The necessary formalities having been complied with, the body of Captain Cain was exhumed on September 27th—a fortnight before the trial at Christchurch began. It was thought advisable to carry out the exhumation in the evening, the later the better, to avoid the presence of the morbidly inquisitive.
It was a gruesome and macabre scene. The night was pitch-dark; rain fell in torrents; a page 332strong gale blew from the south. The flambeaux and torches used to light the grave-diggers at their work spluttered and flared in the storm and were with difficulty kept from going out. Huddled together, with their backs to the wind and the driving rain, stood the officials—the sexton and undertaker, to identify the coffin; Inspector Broham and subordinate officers of police; Dr. Ogston, the pathologist from the Otago University, and Dr. Hogg, of Timaru, who was to assist him in the post-mortem. Mr. White represented the Crown Law Office, and Mr. Perry, the accused Hall.
The coffin was removed to the Timaru Hospital, where the post-mortem examination was begun that night and finished by one o'clock in the morning. Although the body had been buried for nearly eight months, identification presented no difficulty. Portion of the stomach, liver, kidneys, and intestines, together with fluids drawn from several parts of the body, were taken next day to Dunedin and there analysed by Professor Black. Traces of antimony were found in all the specimens. Only a rough quantitative analysis could be made, but it yielded two grains of antimony in the matter sent for analysis. The inference was irresistible that this represented much larger quantities administered during life; but even the quantity actually found would have been enough to accelerate death in a person in the condition of health of the deceased.
The trial took place in Dunedin on January 24th, 1887, and seven following days. The presiding Judge was Mr. Justice Williams (afterwards Sir Joshua Strange Williams, a member of the Privy Council). Mr. B. C. Haggitt, Crown Prosecutor at page 333Dunedin, and Mr. J. W. White, Crown Prosecutor at Timaru, appeared for the Crown; Mr. Chapman (now Sir Frederick Chapman) and Mr. Denniston (afterwards Sir John Denniston), both subsequently raised to the Judicial Bench, acted as Counsel for Hall.
It appeared that Captain Cain had been opposed to the marriage of his step-daughter to Hall, and had in fact absented himself from Timaru to avoid being present at the wedding. After some months, however, a reconciliation was brought about. Hall began to visit Woodlands, where Cain resided; the breach between them was gradually healed, and from the middle of December 1886 Hall became a daily visitor. He would call sometimes at ten in the morning on his way in to Timaru. At this time, it will be remembered, he and his wife resided at Kingsdown, five miles out of town. He was almost invariably at Woodlands for lunch; and he frequently called again on his way home to dinner. On several occasions in January he sat up part of the night with the sick man; and he was actually in the house when Cain died in the forenoon of January 29th. If others were present in the room when he called, he would ask them to retire on the ground that he had "private business" with the Captain.
The evidence of motive for the crime was somewhat obscure. The financial gain that actually accrued to him, through his wife, was not, it would seem, enough to found a motive for murder, even to a man in Hall's embarrassed financial position. But he may well have over-estimated the Captain's means and been disappointed at the result.page 334
It was clear that he had ample opportunity for administering poison. The patient's cough-mixture stood on a table in the room concealed behind a screen; Hall frequently gave him the mixture, and it invariably made him vomit. Hall would also occasionally give him his whisky, and later, when the drink was changed, his port or champagne. Two other persons were proved to have been sick after tasting the Captain's whisky. On the other hand, when a fresh bottle of champagne was opened on an occasion when Hall was not present, Cain drank of it without any unpleasant effects. He was never sick after breakfast; but nearly always after lunch or dinner, when Hall called. Neither, his food nor his tea, given to him by the women of the household, ever made him vomit.
The cross-examination was chiefly directed to showing that Captain Cain died of kidney disease, and that the evidence did not establish that the antimony found in his remains had contributed to his death. On the other hand, although Cain had been ill many months, it was not till Hall's daily visits began in the middle of December that the vomiting symptoms showed themselves. And during the five or six weeks between the beginning of the visits and the death of Cain, Hall was proved to have made purchases of tartar emetic from the chemist at Timaru.
The Case for the Crown, so far as the direct evidence went, was not strong. But the Judge ruled that evidence was admissible to prove that another person, namely, his wife, to whom the prisoner had access, had exhibited the same symptoms as Cain exhibited, and to show that in the page 335excreta of such person the same substance was found as in Cain's body. This ruling let in evidence of Mrs. Hall's symptoms; of the antimony in her vomit, of Hall's access to her, his conduct on the occasion of his arrest, and the fact that antimony, both in solution and in the form of powder, was then found on his person. The question of the admissibility of the evidence was reserved for the Court of Appeal; but subject to this reservation the jury were directed that they might consider this evidence for all purposes and attach such weight to it as they thought proper.
Once this evidence was admitted, the verdict could scarcely be in doubt. The jury, after a retirement of an hour and a half, came back with a verdict of "Guilty," Sentence of death was there and then passed upon the prisoner, but the execution was respited until the question reserved should have been dealt with.
1 18 L. J., M.C., 215.
2 8 Cox C.C., 397.
The Judges who constituted the Court of Appeal were unanimous in holding that, as there was not sufficient proof that the two poisonings formed part of the same transaction or were effected in pursuance of a common design, the conviction must be quashed. As Mr. Justice Williams was himself a member of the Court of Appeal and sat on the case, it must be assumed he concurred in the decision.
In the course of its judgment the Court of Appeal said:
Viewed in the light of science, philosophy, or common sense, there is without doubt a nexus between the two events. The all but mortal illness of Mrs. Hall having been traced to antimony administered by the prisoner in small doses, and the death of Captain Cain having also been traced to the same physical cause, it is, having regard to the other circumstances, reasonable to infer that the human agency in both cases was the same. The strong general resemblance between the two occurrences is, no doubt, cogent evidence to the general mind. But such a resemblance standing alone, without other connecting circumstances, is page 337not allowed by the law of England to be relevant proof of guilt.1
Law should be the perfection of common sense, and it usually is. The prisoner Hall, therefore, must be regarded as singularly fortunate in that on this question of admissibility of evidence the New Zealand Court of Appeal found itself compelled to hold that facts sufficient to satisfy science, philosophy, and common sense were yet insufficient to satisfy the law of evidence.
The judgment in "Regina v. Hall" was adversely commented upon by two of the three Judges in New South Wales who, on a Crown Case Reserved, upheld the conviction of Makin, the "baby-farmer," where a similar question of admissibility arose.2 As this decision was affirmed in the Privy Council,3 some doubt is thrown upon the correctness of the view taken by our Court of Appeal, though Regina v. Hall is not specifically referred to in the opinion of their Lordships as delivered by the Lord Chancellor.
But all doubt on the matter so far as this country is concerned, was set at rest by the Legislature soon after the decision of the Privy Council in "Makin's Case." Section 16 of our "Evidence Amendment Act, 1895 "makes evidence of the class held to have been wrongly admitted in Regina v. Hall admissible for all purposes in cases of poisoning.
1 5 N.Z.L.R., C.A., 93 at 108. This case is discussed in Law Quarterly Review, January 1888, p. 71.
2 14 N.S.W.L.R., 1893, 1.
3 1894, A.C. 57.
When I joined Mr. J. W. White in his practice at Timaru in 1905 he and I were going through his law-books to value them for partnership purposes. On a top shelf, out of sight, we came upon a "Taylor on Poisons," covered with the dust of nearly twenty years. It was the "Taylor"—the very copy produced in Court at the two trials. Mr. White, regarding it perhaps as a deodand, had very naturally appropriated it after the Dunedin trial, but had never had occasion to use it during the eighteen years it had been in his possession. Taking the book between his palms and resting it, back down-wards, on the office table, he said, "I wonder if it still does it!" and then let go his hands. Sure enough it still did: it fell open at page 371—at the article "Antimony."